The Legend of Lumpy Sue… And Why it Matters

It’s “Black Friday,” the unofficial national holiday of excess spending and rampant consumerism. Now, I have no real problem with that in and of itself, some people really seem to enjoy the “rush” of standing in long lines to wait for a discount on a television set, or of beating someone else to the better deal… who knows, maybe it all taps into some ancient hunter instinct.  Whatever it may be, I am decidedly missing that gene.  The thought of a crowded mall with people clamoring over each other sends chills down my spine, and when I read about stories like this, or this, or this,  I feel downright glad that I lack the “Black Friday” spirit.  Instead, I go to sleep content on Thanksgiving, knowing that after a day of giving thanks for what I do have, I can spend next day sharing a beautiful afternoon with those I love listening to wonderful music in inspiring surroundings. In other words, at least here in Miami, the Lumpy Sue Acoustic Music Fest, a free music festival that has been around for a little over 20 years.

Granted, the festival has an odd name… who is this Lumpy Sue, and what does she have to do with Thanksgiving and free music? Well, here is the “Legend of Lumpy Sue,” as told by the festival organizers…

On the day after a fine Thanksgiving in the early
1960s, a fat Massachusetts cop named Officer
Obie slid into his police cruiser and set out to
investigate a malicious pile of irritating garbage
which, according to an eyewitness, had been
dumped on state land by a band of hung over
hippies. Using his sharp but rural detective
skills, Obie would conclude his investigation on
that very day by pulling his .38 on a skinny
litterbug named Arlo Guthrie, earning himself in the
process a lengthy stay in folksong history.
Although the fact is little known, one of the
people who helped Arlo pick up that stank
Thanksgiving garbage went by the name of
Lumpy Sue. In a 60s sort of way, she became
radicalized on the spot as she cursed and
scooped the end products of our consumerist
society. Her consciousness continued to evolve
through the disco and punk eras, and she eventually
became an underground folk hero in her
own right without ever really explaining the
origins of the nickname “Lumpy.” The hippest
people in the country have long passed down
the tales of her late night conversations with the
ghost of Joe Hill, how she nursed to proper
health thousands of orphaned children at
Chernobyl, and her heroic rescue of seven
dolphins enslaved by navy scientists. In those
olden times, back before it was illegal for miners
to buy spray paint, her fans went to a lot of
trouble to scrawl her name on highway overpasses,
often right below “Clapton is God.”
Lumpy Sue came to North Miami Beach in
1982 where she was instrumental in founding, in
her own selfless and historical way, the annual
acoustic music fest in Greynolds Park which
appropriately bears her name.

If you haven’t heard Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Alice’s Restaurant” (Arlo is, of course, the son of Woody Guthrie, the famous American folksinger of “This Land is Your Land” fame), you should. I’ve included it below, although I have to warn you, its long. It’s a song about Alice, yes, and Officer Obie, but it’s also a song about peace, about protesting social injustice, and ultimately about coming together for what’s right and just.

And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it’s a movement.

As I was laying on the grass today listening to the music, watching the children dance, feeling the cool breeze on my face, I thought about our world today and just how terribly divided we all are. I thought about the Occupy movement, and the violence and derision with which it is so often met. I thought about Paul Krugman’s article arguing that the statement “We are the 99%” actually doesn’t go far enough. I thought about my daughter, and the kind of world that I would like to leave for her. And of course, I thought about Lumpy Sue, cleaning up someone else’s garbage, leaving things just a little better than she found it. And I looked around, and saw a group of people capable of doing the same, and I returned home just a little bit hopeful… and very glad to have avoided the malls.

As promised, here’s a little Arlo Guthrie to kick off the post-holiday weekend…

Enjoy! And lets all try to keep a little perspective as the holiday season unfolds.


2 thoughts on “The Legend of Lumpy Sue… And Why it Matters

  1. Wow. Greynolds Park. I grew up in North Miami (the “Pioneers”) and as a kid, would ride my bike of a weekend to either Greynolds (that hill up to the fort was a great bike ride down) or over the 125th St Causeway to Haulover Beach. Never heard of Lumpy Sue though.

    Up here in Boston it used to be that one radio station had a tradition to play Arlo’s song every Thanksgiving. Anyway, nice sentiments, Kris.

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